Channel 4 and Tesco have both been getting a bit of a hammering on social media lately. The former for broadcasting a live TV debate called Brexit: What The Nation Really Thinks which failed to include somebody to represent the Scottish perspective on this issue. The programme featured A pro-Brexit British Tory government minister (David Gauke MP, Justice Secretary); a pro-Brexit British Labour front-bencher (Barry Gardiner, Shadow Trade Secretary); British Nationalist and leading Mad Brexiteer, Nigel Farage
The sole ‘Remain’ voice was Green Party of England and Wales MP, Caroline Lucas, representing the People’s Vote campaign. To be fair, Nicola Sturgeon was invited to participate. But we’ll come back to that.
Tesco got itself embroiled in the ‘unionjackery’ row after one of its customer services managers responded to a complaint about Union Jacks replacing Saltires on Scottish produce saying,
We had used the Union jack on products because it unifies the different regions within the UK. Scotland, England and Wales. It was decided to do this based on the history of the UK as a whole and everything we have been through together as for the time being, we are still one country
The Tesco spokesperson went on to deny any “political agenda”. But it is difficult to see the above as anything other than an expression of a political position in support of Unionism. Leaving aside the clumsy offensiveness of referring to Scotland as a “region”, the response explicitly states that the purpose of emblazoning Scottish produce with the Union Jack is “because it unifies the different regions within the UK”. That is patently a political purpose. It could almost be the mission statement for the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project.
These two issues may seem dissimilar and unrelated. But I would contend that there is a common thread running through both. Not the kind of British establishment ‘conspiracy’ being theorised by certain section of the Twitterati. But something arguably just as insidious and pernicious.
To understand what is going on here, we must sidestep blame and look for cause. Instead of asking, “Who did this?”, we must ask, “How and why did this happen?”. It would be easy – perhaps facile would be a better term – to look for some kind of mechanistic cause and effect. We might theorise that Tesco’s ‘unionjackery’ was done on instructions from the British government or one of its agencies. We might suppose that Channel 4’s failure to ensure Scottish representation on their panel was a matter of British state-inspired corporate policy.
Such ‘conspiracy theories’ are quite understandable when one considers how the supermarkets were recruited, by David Cameron, to Project Fear during the 2014 referendum campaign. And when one reflects on how the British media in general tends to reflect the priorities and prejudices of the British establishment, at crippling cost to the possibility of fair representation for any perspective other than the cosy consensus of a London-centric clique. But, as I am frequently wont to observe, ‘conspiracy’ is commonly an emergent property of organisations or networks. Outcomes which, with hindsight or an excessively shallow appreciation, may appear to be the product of careful orchestration, are at least as likely to emerge spontaneously in situations where there is a sufficient number of actors, with sufficient influence, and a sufficient commonality of interest to produce an outcome which seems contrived to serve that common interest.
The driving force in this process is, not active and purposeful cooperation among individuals and groups, but the nature of the ethos and context within which those individual and groups operate. Unless otherwise directed by effective management or regulation, organisations tend to evolve to serve themselves rather than the purpose for which they were founded. They are essentially conservative and will, by their very nature as human constructs, be inclined to protect their own existence, preserve their structural integrity and maintain or increase their relative power. Organisations are reactionary. They tend to resist change. They tend to prefer the known, even if it is not ideal.
The overarching ethos within which organisations operate is, of necessity and almost with exception, determined by the dominant political, economic and cultural influence. British businesses – such as Tesco – and the British media – including Channel 4 – operate within a powerfully British context. It is entirely unsurprising, therefore, that these organisations should act for the British state even absent anything conspiratorial.
The British ruling elites have fostered an environment in which it is perfectly acceptable to decry and disrespect and denigrate anything Scottish. British politicians have, by their rhetoric and conduct, licensed anti-Scottish sentiment, in the same way that the EU Leave campaign licensed racist and xenophobic behaviour. The British media echo and amplify the British Nationalism that has infected all of British politics. And so it becomes ‘normal’ to treat Scotland as a ‘region’. In the British state, Scotland is regarded as subordinate and inferior. Scotland’s MPs are treated as second-class in the British parliament. Scotland’s First Minister is treated with similar disdain.
Hence, Channel 4 failed – or neglected – to recognise Nicola Sturgeon’s status as First Minister and leader of a major political party. When inviting Nicola Sturgeon to participate in the TV debate, they failed – or neglected – to follow the required protocol. The basic rule is that politicians only appear on a platform alongside their opposite number or a politician of similar standing. There are all sorts of perfectly valid reasons for this. But these need not concern us here. Only that there is a standard practice, and that Channel 4 did not follow it.
The point is that they would not have invited, for example, Theresa May unless they also planned to have her opposite number – the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. It would not even have crossed their minds to do so. These are professional programme-makers. They would have realised almost instinctively that this would be improper.
So why didn’t it occur to them that inviting Scotland’s First Minister was, under the circumstances, just as improper?
The answer, I would maintain, lies in the political environment engineered by the British political elite and promulgated by the British media. An environment in which Scotland is regarded as a nuisance at best and an enemy at worst. An environment in which Scotland’s democratic institutions – government, parliament and political leadership – are perceived as a threat to be neutralised by any means. A culture of contempt.
This same culture of contempt pervades Tesco’s management. Their contribution to the obliteration of ‘Scotland the brand’ is almost certainly not motivated by conscious malice. It is simply the way things are done in the British state. No amount of Twitter outrage directed at Channel 4 or Tesco will change this. So long as Scotland accepts the Union, Scotland will be treated as no more than a ‘region’ of Greater England.
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